Panthers ready to follow record-setting season
The Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team has a tough act to follow this season.
Todd Fritze's team enjoyed a record-setting season a year ago, going undefeated in dual meets for the first time in school history, winning the Mid-State Conference title, breaking five school records, qualifying six individuals in six events for the state Class A meet and having an all-state diver.
In addition to going 7-0 in dual meets and winning the conference tite, the Panthers placed fifth at the Section 5A True Team meet and fourth at the Section 5A meet.
The Panthers won't have the depth they had last season with the loss of 12 swimmers and divers, including seven who graduated. However, with five state swimmers and divers returning to lead the way and 10 others who competed on varsity last season, Fritze is counting on another successful season from the Panthers.
"We can't replace the guys who moved on, but we have a good core group back," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Kristi Smythe and Megan Helms. "Depth will be an issue, so the younger guys will have to step up. The guys are working hard and with hard work good things will happen."
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are seniors Matt Benson, Zach Behrens, Casimir Simonson and Sam Huot; juniors Spencer Fritze, Seth Breitweser and Zach Fritze; sophomores Marcus Benson, Dominik Backmann and Dan Walsh; freshmen Ethan Hemenway, Elliot Nichols, Thomas Williams and Jacob Zinniel; and eighth grader Jessup Cempa.
Spencer Fritze capped off a team MVP season by placing seventh in diving at the state meet to earn all-state honors while Marcus Benson placed 11th in the 100-yard backstroke with a school-record time of 55.46 as the Panthers scored 18 points to place 26th in the team standings. Spencer Fritze, Behrens and Matt Benson swam on the 200 freestyle relay that placed 19th with a 1:31.80 to break the school record; Simonson, Spencer Fritze, Behrens and Matt Benson placed 20th in the 200 medley relay; Matt Benson was 26th in the 200 freestyle; and Spencer Fritze placed 26th in the 50 freestyle at last year's state meet.
Returning as all-conference champs are Simonson, Spencer Fritze, Behrens and Matt Benson in the 200 medley relay (with a Mid-State record of 1:44.82); Matt Benson in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle; Behrens in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly; Spencer Fritze in the 50 freestyle; Spencer Fritze, Behrens and Matt Benson in the 2000 freestyle relay; and Simonson in the 100 backstroke. Earning all-conference honorable mention honors last season with runner-up finishes were Williams, Zach Fritze and Breitweser in the 200 medley relay; Simonson in the 200 individual medley; Zach Fritze in the 50 freestyle; Spencer Fritze in diving; Marcus Benson in the 100 backstroke; and Simonson and Marcus Benson in the 400 freestyle relay. Marcus Benson in the 200 freestyle, Breitweser in diving, Zach Fritze in the 100 butterfly, Williams in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke, and Breitweser in the 200 freestyle relay received all-conference honorable mention honors by placing third.
Helping the Panthers score 301 points at the section meet to trail Sartell-St. Stephen's 531, Alexandria's 343 and Melrose/Sauk Centre's 302 were the six state qualifiers. Spencer Fritze took second in diving, Marcus Benson was the runner-up in the 100 backstroke, and Spencer Fritze in the 50 freestyle, Matt Benson in the 200 freestyle, and the 200 freestyle relay team all placed third. The 200 medley relay team advanced by placing fourth with a state-qualifying time of 1:42.10 to break the school record.
Also competing in last year's section finals were Marcus Benson (eighth in the 200 freestyle), Behrens (sixth in the 200 individual medley and seventh in the 100 butterfly), Zach Fritze (seventh in the 50 freestyle), Breitweser (seventh in diving) and Simonson (seventh in the 100 freestyle and fifth in the 100 backstroke). Simonson and Marcus Benson also swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that placed sixth.
Advancing to the consolation finals at the section meet were Zach Fritze (12th in the 100 butterfly), Huot (16th in the 100 butterfly), Williams (13th in the 500 freestyle and 13th in the 100 backstroke) and Breitweser (15th in the 100 breaststroke). Huot also placed 17th in the 200 individual medley.
Spencer Fritze, who broke his own school records with 267.15 points for six dives and 460.20 points for 11 dives, led the team with 378.50 points. Matt Benson was second with 373.50 points and moved up to the No. 9 spot in school history in the 100 butterfly. Behrens, who ranks No. 3 in the 200 individual medley and No. 7 in the 100 butterfly, scored 339 points last season while Marcus Benson followed with 319.50 points and ranks No. 6 in the 200 freestyle. Simonson scored 317.50 points and moved up to the No. 3 spot in the 100 backstroke, the No. 8 spot in the 100 freestyle and the No. 9 spot in the 200 individual medley.
Also scoring points for the Panthers last season were Zach Fritze (241.50), Breitweser (207.50), Williams (174.50), Huot (86.50), Dan Walsh (77), Zinniel (36), Nichols (16), Hemenway (12) and Cempa (1). Breitweser ranks No. 4 for 11 dives while Williams ranks No. 10 in the 100 backstroke.
Park Rapids has some key spots to fill with the graduation of Sam Eystad, Jack Bateman, Kaleb Carlson, Jack Christenson, Jack Walsh, Tim Walsh and Steve Wattenhofer. Eystad was the other member of the record-breaking and conference champion 200 freestyle relay team while Carlson won the 100 breaststroke at the conference meet. Placing at the section meet were Eystad and Bateman in the 400 freestyle relay (sixth), Carlson in the 100 breaststroke (seventh), Eystad in the 50 freestyle (eighth), Bateman in the 100 freestyle (14th), Christenson in diving (15th) and Tim Walsh in the 100 backstroke (15th).
Looking to help fill those spots will be junior Aiden McComas and seventh graders Nicholas Graham, Jordan Odor, Cameron Runyan and Isaac Zinniel.
"We're going to be a different team than we were last year, but we still have high goals and high standards," said Fritze. "We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience who know what to expect. The guys seem pretty focused right now. I'm cautiously optimistic about the season."